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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 June 2007, 18:59 GMT 19:59 UK
Private firms work on Africa's future
By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, Africa Business Forum, London

Delegates at the Africa Business Forum
African leaders and business executives want the G8 to listen

Two years on from the height of the Make Poverty History campaign and the Gleneagles G8 summit, there is not a single white wristband in sight.

Ahead of this year's summit of the world's eight leading industrial nations in Heiligendamm, Germany, African leaders and business executives have gathered in London to hammer out solutions to the continent's remaining plight.

"There was a rumour that the G8 needed advice," quips Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

"We have gathered here to become consultants to the G8."

Formidable challenge

Across the world, there is a growing sense that the G8 has failed to deliver on many of its initial promises to fight poverty in Africa, warns Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, chairman of conglomerate Anglo American.

President Museveni
The Western countries have denied us access to their markets - deliberately
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

"The G8 leaders will do well to beware the cynicism," he says.

True, as pointed out by Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, the debt relief promised during the Gleneagles meeting in 2005 has done much to enable African governments to "spend more on education, health, water and on helping those infected with HIV".

Yet he adds: "Our development challenges remain formidable".

Slow progress

Economic growth in Africa has picked up considerably in recent years to an estimated 5.9% in 2007.

But this has not come about as a result of any concerted action by the leaders of wealthy nations, insists, Sir Mark.

"A key driver of this growth has been high commodity prices," he points out, questioning whether the prosperity will last.

In the meantime, "the aid figures in many areas seem pretty disappointing" and global trade talks have stalled, he says.

"Progress is slower than I would have wished, than we all would have wished," he says.

Market access

President Museveni puts it more starkly.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa says the West must do more

"Almost all African countries are pre-industrial," he says, paraphrasing the voice of the West: "'You must stay producing the cocoa bean. I will process it for you. Stay in your place. Don't move up the value chain.'

"The G8 countries should not assume they have an advisory role in Africa," he says, insisting African governments are capable of deciding themselves how to bring about development.

"Where we need assistance now - or at least not obstruction - is in two areas: cheap electricity and infrastructure.

Free trade is another key to African development, President Museveni says, insisting that "Western countries have denied us access to their markets - deliberately".

Local trade barriers

But efforts to remove trade barriers should not be limited to global trade talks, insists David Hesketh, revenue business development director, Crown Agents.

David Hesketh
Customs officials need a change of emphasis, says David Hesketh

In addition, inefficient or corrupt customs officials make trade difficult at the grass root level, and this prevents many global companies from investing in or trading with African countries, he explains.

"How much is it costing you when your goods are held up by customs in Mombasa for 10 days?" he asks.

Customs, on a day-to-day basis, makes a huge difference to business," agrees Martin Summers, international social accountability manager, British American Tobacco.

"It is much easier to plan a supply chain if you know when you can get unfinished products and parts in, and when you can get the finished product out."

African customs officials should start seeing exporters and importers as tax payers rather than as potential smugglers, suggests Francis Kamulegeya of consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers in Kenya.

Hence, they should move away from being controllers to become trade facilitators.

This, he argues, would create a favourable business climate, it would enable firms to reduce inventories, and it would speed up their cash flow.

And as business thrives, so does trade, which in turn should boost the government's tax and tariff revenues.

Agrees Mr Summers: "Customs is arguably the best way business can make a lasting impact on development."

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